Charleston is known for its rich and diverse culinary scene, but the city’s quintessential dishes are rooted in Southern tradition and flavor legacies.
Here are 10 essential Lowcountry foods to try:
Shrimp and Grits
You’ll find it on many menus in Charleston. There is, perhaps, no Lowcountry food more iconic to the Holy City—and for good reason! It’s a widely varied and adaptable dish, served at high-end restaurants and hole-in-the-wall joints alike.
Although fried chicken can be found throughout the country, nobody does it better than the South. The key to a good fry is a crispy, spice-packed crust enveloping a juicy, moist hunk of meat that tastes just as well cold from the fridge as it does hot out of the fryer. The best fried chicken is made with buttermilk, lard, and a lot of love.
Country Fried Steak
Country fried steak, also known as chicken fried steak, is like fried chicken’s lesser-known cousin. It’s also related to the country-fried pork chop, another popular Lowcountry food dish. The preparation is quite similar to that of fried chicken—take a hunk of meat, batter it and deep-fry it—but it differs in that country fried steak is typically served with some kind of gravy, either white gravy (like what’s usually served with a biscuit) or brown (made with some kind of meat drippings). Pour it on!
Fried Green Tomatoes
We love fried green tomatoes so much in the South, Hollywood titled a movie after this classic Southern dish. Although this dish can be found in the Northern regions of the U.S., the Lowcountry version, made with cornmeal or corn flour, is the only version worth eating. Towanda!
Pulled-pork barbecue is a Southern staple; there are few things more iconicly Southern than a whole pig roasting over an open fire. Roasters pride themselves on their pit-firing abilities, traveling around the country to have their version compete for the top spot. Charleston is lucky enough to have several prizewinning pit masters in residence, so there’s no shortage of meaty goodness in the Holy City. Eat it plain or with some of South Carolina’s own mustard-based sauce.
Chicken bog (aka chicken pirloo/pilau) is one of the more unique Lowcountry food dishes. Odds are, if you’re not from this area, you likely haven’t heard of it. It’s a basic dish—a rich porridge consisting of chicken, rice, onions and sausage—that’s the meal you’d only be served in your grandmother’s kitchen. It’s seeing a major resurgence in Southern culinary culture so look for it on unexpected menus.
Being on the coast, it’s no surprise that oysters are a classic Charleston dish. The “r” months—the months between September and April—are prime oyster season in Charleston. You’ll find oysters on the menu at events ranging from big, elaborate festivals to quaint, backyard roasts throughout the fall and spring. Be prepared to try this Lowcountry food treat (and don’t be surprised when people bring their own oyster shucking knives to the party).
Where to get it: Where to Eat the Best Oysters in Charleston SC
In Charleston, okra comes in many forms. It can be grilled, stewed, boiled, roasted, pickled or fried, but no matter how you prepare it, one thing is certain: It’s delicious. Outsiders often write off this superfood because of its tendency to release a slimy sugar residue (not unlike aloe vera) when prepared by the inexperienced cook, but in Charleston, chefs have found a way to make this down-home delicacy into a gourmet culinary experience you’re not likely to find anywhere else. We love it fried in a southern cornmeal batter.
On New Years’ Day around the South, you’ll find people cooking up pork, hoppin’ john and collard greens for good luck in the coming year. But we don’t just eat our greens one day a year; Charlestonians love a good bowl of collard greens anytime. Savory and salty, they’re best when cooked with ham and served with a generous helping of pepper vinegar or hot sauce for a true taste of Southern “health food.”
Take me out to the ballgame...one of the best parts of summer is heading to see the Charleston Riverdogs play ball and buying a hot bag of Cajun-style boiled peanuts from a local celebrity, Tony the Peanut Man. Often called “the caviar of the South,” boiled peanuts look something like kidney beans, but taste like salty pearls of edamame, crossed with a chickpea, crossed with a peanut. They’re uniquely addicting!
Please be sure to contact each establishment to verify opening hours, reservation policies, health requirements, and any other variations as the month’s progress.